“I have mixed feelings about this. I really feel like it’s so important for kids to be able to establish a personable relationship with their peers and strangers they meet, have a conversation with them and make good eye contact. I feel like if they have a smartphone too early it can distract from so many amazing conversations they could have and glean from! On the flip side, I love my smartphone so much and there are things I would like to share with my daughter, a 7th grader. I am in a unique position as a home school mom because my daughter is mainly around adults; she has good eye contact and is a great conversationalist. So, it's hard for me to answer this with absoluteness.”
This is how one woman expressed her divided feelings about our children and smartphones while taking our most recent SheByShe opinion survey, “Smartphones: What Women Think.” Over 700 women responded to the survey and expressed their opinions about a wide variety of smartphone-related topics.
We asked these women what age is the right time to give a child a smartphone and received hundreds of insightful, thoughtful comments. Women are clearly divided on the issue, and as these SheByShe voices show, it is a topic at the forefront for many parents.
Only 13 percent of our survey respondents think that grade school age is appropriate. As one respondent said, “My six year old has had her own phone for over a year.” Another commented, “I gave my 6 year old daughter an old smartphone with kid friendly apps to learn to read, play games, and text me.” Another said, “My son got a phone in the 4th grade to be able to communicate with us after school.” And another commented, “I think they are old enough at that age to communicate with their friends, but with parent’s supervision.”
On the flip side, many disagreed, such as this respondent who said, “I have seven grandchildren and until they have after school events, they don't need a phone.” And, this one who differentiated between giving a phone and a smartphone, “Since phone booths, and many landlines for homes are nonexistent, kids do need a phone but NOT A SMARTPHONE where it is too easy to access inappropriate information.”
The majority of respondents, 43 percent, think that children should be in the 7th to 9th grade before receiving a smartphone. Most of these women cite practical reasons: it is a good way to connect with parents or home; it increases independence and makes participation in external activities easier on parents; and it works as a good educational tool.
As one woman said, “It gives parents a way to reach kids who may be walking home to an empty house after school or to after school activities. Missed the bus? Call mom. Need a ride from a sport after school? Call dad.” Another said, “Children should be able to contact parents anytime.” And, a third commented, “If something happens at school, I want my child to be able to call me.”
On the other hand, 35 percent of respondents believe middle school and younger is still too young, and advocate for waiting until high school. Reasons cited include, “It’s too dangerous,” and “Too much distraction and too much risk of inappropriate communication when under age.”
Many of these women advocate waiting because, “I don't think children need smartphones. My childhood was just fine without one; I want them to focus on having fun and friends. Once they start driving and become more independent of me, it becomes more necessary.” Another said that there is “too much preoccupation on the phone. Young people should not have a phone so early. There is more to life than constantly being on a phone.”
Many equate learning to drive with the need for a smartphone, and see it as a time to assume financial responsibility as well. As one said, “Kids need a phone when they start driving. It's a luxury before that and that phone could be a dumb phone. They should be able to pay for a smartphone and the service plan before owning one.” And, another commented, “Children have no need for a smartphone; cell phone as they get older, yes, but not a smartphone. I think that at the age where children start driving is when the capabilities of a smartphone become more of a necessity than a luxury.” And another commented, “Phones seem important for communicating once kids are driving and on their own but not really before then.”
A small minority, only 9 percent of respondents, think smartphones are appropriate only after 12th grade. As one said, “I didn’t have a phone until freshman year in college.” And, “A smartphone can be very distracting and kids need to be more mature to understand how to properly use it.”
At the end of the day, it seems that this SheByShe respondent summed up the issue best by commenting, “Ultimately, parents should know their children and make an individual decision based only on their child.”